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May 8, 2013

Authorities Detect Homeschoolers; Family Flees to Austria

by Auke Boersma

We’re a Christian family with four children, ages 6—12 years. Since our marriage, my wife and I were living in or near Munich, Germany, joining a small Church there. It was probably when our oldest daughter was still a toddler that we started thinking about school. My wife was feeling uncomfortable about sending her to a German public school in the future. We hadn’t sent her to the kindergarten because we just enjoyed having her around us, and of course, because we believed that we as parents could take care of her raising and education. There were too many situations and stories happening in school that we could hear from friends. My first reaction was, “Homeschooling? That’s just illegal, it’s impossible.” However, we heard that there was a small group of homeschoolers, most of them Christians, that managed somehow to bypass the German school system and to teach their children at home. Shortly after we met some of them and were amazed at the difference we could see between these children and other children. We decided to go for that method of education, but we knew from many examples that we might run into trouble. What is more, almost none of our brothers and sisters in church or from our families shared our views and or would support our decision.

The Boersma family

Indeed in 2009, two years after starting homeschooling, we were detected and immediately the authorities sent us a fine of 1000 Euro (about 1,300 USD) which was meant to force us to send our daughter to the public school. We tried to talk to the officials in the supervisory school authority but they only pointed to the Bavarian laws in our state which do not include any provision for this option. Contrary to other cases, the officials would not tolerate any homeschooling but would fine us again and again until we would give up. From other cases we knew that there is even the danger to lose custody of our daughter. So it became more and more clear to us that we would not have a future in Germany and would have to leave the country. This was not a small decision because we had our family and friends there.

At this point we prayed that God would open up a door for us, and indeed, we found a Christian farmer near Salzburg, Austria, who had an empty apartment where my wife and the children could stay for a while. In early 2010, we de-registered my wife and children from Germany and they moved to Austria; however, I still had to work in Munich and so stayed in Germany. My wife started to shuttle every weekend between the Salzburg region and the place where we lived in Germany, including our dog and three rabbits, 2.5 hours one-way!

Again, God was gracious, and provided me—after one phone call—a new job in Austria at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna. (I’m a veterinarian working in research). Shortly after, we found a big house to rent 40 minutes outside of Vienna.

In September 2010, we found ourselves living in Lower Austria. We were of course very relieved that we had now for the first time a long-term perspective to legally homeschool our children. However, we slowly realized that although homeschooling is legal and possible in Austria, it is quite strictly regulated and not a socially well-accepted decision. Among 8.5 million people living in Austria, and 1.15 million pupils, there are approximately 2,200 homeschoolers. Each homeschooler, once a school year, has to take a written and oral exam for every subject at a public school. If the student does not pass the exam, he is she has to go to the public school. This is of course quite a pressure for the young child and a stressful situation for the whole family. Furthermore, most people in Austria are not even aware of the possibility of homeschooling and would consider it unnecessary, if not a bit weird to do this. Therefore, to gather or at least connect the few Christian homeschoolers in Austria, we recently established a website for this purpose and a Facebook group. We hope that we can more and more learn from and encourage each other that it is worthwhile to take the efforts and maybe some pain to invest our lives in the academic, social and spiritual growth of our children. For us, it’s a big encouragement to know that we are connected to a worldwide community, sharing these convictions. Thank you for all your support and prayers.

Auke Boersma helped to form the newly established Christian Homeschoolers in Austria organization.

 Other Resources

Learn more by visiting HSLDA’s Austria page.